Coming Together in Lyme: New Jersey Church Visits Upper Valley

  • Helen Oliver, left, of Lyme, N.H., shakes hands with Gisele Coley, of Paterson, N.J., before the start of a combined church choir rehearsal at the Lyme Congrerational Church in Lyme, N.H., on Sept. 15, 2018. Between them is Nadine Mendez, of Lodi, N.J. Coley and Mendez are members of the Community Baptist Church of Englewood, N.J. Mendez and Oliver met the night before at dinner. "And we're having a great time" Oliver said. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Tyrell Belle, the minister of music at the Community Baptist Church of Englewood, N.J., directs a choir from his church and Upper Valley churches at Lyme Congrerational Church in Lyme, N.H., on Sept. 15, 2018. The combined choir was rehearsing for a performance together the next day. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Gisele Coley, of Paterson, N.J., left, Rose Owens of Hackensack, N.J., and Pamela Harrison of Lodi, N.J., members of the Community Baptist Church of Englewood, N.J. chat while Lyme Congrerational church members Catherine Hopper and her husband, David Perlman, of Lyme, N.H., move a bench out of Lyme Congrerational Church in Lyme on Sept. 15, 2018. The bench was being moved to be used as seating under a tent during a lunch at the church. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Valley News Staff Writer
Saturday, September 15, 2018

Lyme — Sitting on a bench in the upstairs sanctuary at Lyme Congregational Church on Saturday, Gisele Coley summed up the motivation for her congregation’s 280-mile trip from Engelwood, N.J., this weekend.

“If we’re all going to be together in heaven, which I do believe, we might as well get it together while we’re here,” said Coley, who wore large, wooden Ichthys earrings. “I’ve been hoping we could do something like this for quite a while.”

Coley, of Paterson, N.J., is a parishioner and choir member of Community Baptist Church in Engelwood, a New York City suburb north of Newark.

Led by its pastor, the Rev. Lester Taylor, CBC routinely organizes trips to unite with other parishes, and members have traveled as far as California and Texas, and overseas to Africa on several occasions.

This weekend’s visit to the Upper Valley parish — comprising Congregational churches in Hanover, Thetford, Norwich and Lyme — was the first time CBC had visited a predominantly white community.

“It’s an opportunity for us to join our cultures and learn other traditions,” Taylor said during a luncheon on Saturday in Lyme. “Our ministry is increasingly becoming more interracial, more integrated, and that’s something that we certainly cherish and welcome. Now we are being welcomed here.”

More than 90 church members arrived from New Jersey on Friday afternoon for a weekend full of festivities called “One! Body, Spirit, Hope,” a theme borrowed from the book of the Ephesians from the New Testament of the Bible.

Several years ago, Lyme pastor Amy Hayden led a group of Upper Valley residents to Community Baptist Church and was struck by the impassioned preaching of Taylor during service.

She has since returned to visit New Jersey several times on her own and has been planning for this weekend’s reciprocal visit for about a year.

“As soon as I saw him speak and witnessed the whole culture they have there, I knew it was something I wanted our congregation to be connected with,” Hayden said. “We’re so happy to have them here.”

Taylor will preach during a noon worship today at Lyme Congregational Church. The service — which will feature a choir of singers from both churches — will cap a busy weekend of festivities.

After a dinner at a Lyme inn on Friday, the group on Saturday morning visited a quilt exhibit in Canaan called “And Still We Rise,” which portrays 400 years of the African-American experience.

Following Saturday’s luncheon and choir rehearsal, the group planned to attend a civil rights lecture at Dartmouth College, then have a potluck dinner at the Church of Christ at Dartmouth before a trip to the Lebanon Opera House to see A2VT, an African roots outfit.

“It’s been a very enlightening trip,” said Joeanne Foster, of Lodi, N.J. “Sitting together, blending in with everybody and learning about each other has been wonderful.”

For many, it was their first trip to northern New England. Debbie Bullock, of Hackensack, N.J., and Nadine Mendez, of Lodi, both commented on the scenery of the Upper Valley’s landscape.

“It’s so peaceful here, just beautiful,” Mendez said. “And everyone has been so welcoming.”

Paul Killebrew, of Lyme, joined a group of Community Baptist members at the end of a table during Saturday’s luncheon. “It’s really exciting to have them here,” he said. “These kinds of group visits are a great way for us to say that our congregation is open to everyone.”

Around a dozen members of Community Baptist’s 100-person choir made the trip, joining Upper Valley parishoners to perform at today’s worship. Alison Cheroff, LCC’s organist and choir director, joined CBC minister of music Tyrell Belle to lead a rehearsal on Saturday. Belle’s spiritual vigor shone as he instructed the group through a practice of the hymn, I Love My God, Who Heard Me Cry.

“Alright we’re going to do a vowel warmup,” Belle said with a smile. “Everyone sing, ‘Maaaaaaw.’ ”

Lyme’s sanctuary echoed as the congregations harmonized.

“Maaaaaw-velous!” Belle replied.

Cheroff could hardly wait for today’s service.

“The floor of this sanctuary is going to rock,” she said. “The whole theme of ‘One’ is really going to be on display, with our choirs combined as one spiritual entity.”

Cheroff also was looking forward to seeing the Rev. Taylor preach after witnessing him speak previously in New Jersey.

“His voice and his emotion is so deep and heartfelt, you really feel it,” Cheroff said. “It unites everyone in prayer, no matter what your background is.”

A sendoff for the visitors is scheduled for 2 p.m. on Lyme Common.

Jared Pendak can be reached at jpendak@vnews.com or 603-727-3216.